Falling on David Cameron’s desk this afternoon is a letter signed by all current and living former leaders of the Liberal Democrats in which they outline the five key tests the Government must pass in order to secure the party’s support for airstrkes in Syria.
Here is the letter in full:
In advance of your statement outlining your plan for military intervention against ISIL in Syria, we are writing to outline the criteria against which we will judge our response to your proposals.
As you will know our party has maintained a consistent position that airstrikes alone will not defeat ISIL in Syria. Deployment of lethal force should never be used simply as a gesture. It has to have effect, and to have effect it has to be part of a wider strategy, especially on the diplomatic front.
We are encouraged by the fact that the Government has at last decided to explain the details of that strategy and look forward to hearing what this is.
The five conditions below give the UK the best chance at having an effective strategy to counter ISIL and make serious progress in ending the Syrian civil war. We call on you to embed them into your plans before they are brought to the House of Commons on Thursday.
These conditions are:
Military intervention must follow an international legal framework. We believe this has been provided by UN Resolution 2249 which urges members to take “all reasonable measures” to defeat ISIL.
This is the instrument with which all those opposed to ISIL have the means to coordinate military action to defeat them, including regional actors on the ground.
2. Wider diplomatic framework including efforts towards a no-bomb zone to protect civilians
Any military action by the UK must be part of a wider international effort involving all who have an interest in defeating ISIL, as a prelude to ending the conflict in Syria, including Russia, Iran and Turkey.
The UK Government should use all efforts to ensure that the Vienna talks succeed in bringing together the broadest possible support for action to end the war in Syria and effect political transition.
In addition, we call on the government to explicitly work towards ending the Syrian regime’s bombing of civilianswith a no-bomb zone to maximise civilian protection and allow for an upscaling of humanitarian access.
3. UK led pressure on Gulf States for increased support in the region
The UK should lead a concerted international effort to put pressure on the Gulf States, specifically Saudi Arabia and the Emiratis, to stop the funding of jihadi groups within the region and worldwide and do much more to assist in the effort to defeat ISIL, establish peace in Syria and help with the refugee situation. They are currently doing very little, despite claiming to be part of the anti-ISIL coalition.
ISIL is not just a Western problem, and this is one way of preventing them from framing the situation in that way.
4. Post-ISIL plan
The government must be absolutely clear on what Syria and Iraq will look like post-ISIL, and what post-conflict strategy (including an exit strategy) they propose to give the best chance of avoiding a power vacuum. This must be linked to the above diplomatic framework which will outline steps for ending the wider conflict in Syria.
We acknowledge that the fight against ISIL is not just in the Middle East: it is within Europe and it is here in the UK. We call on the government to immediately publish its 2014 investigation into the Muslim Brotherhood and also call on them to conduct an investigation into foreign funding and support of extremist and terrorist groups in the UK.
We call on the government to step up its acceptance of Syrian refugees, and opt in to Save the Children’s proposal to rehome 3000 unaccompanied refugee children from with Europe.
UPDATE: Signatories added after a request in the comments:
Tim Farron MP
Nick Clegg MP
Lord Ashdown of Norton sub Hamdon
Lord Campbell of Pittenweem
Kirsty Williams AM
Willie Rennie MSP
The decision on whether to take or support military action is not one to be taken lightly. The Liberal Democrat leaders who signed the letter include a former Deputy Prime Minister who, up until 6 months ago, was receiving security briefings on a daily basis, two experts in the field of foreign affairs and a former member of the Defence Select Committee. They have credibility and they know what they are talking about. They have come up with a coherent set of tests, which is more than the official opposition has done.
Getting this decision right is hard. Charles Kennedy did in 2003 in refusing to back the war in Iraq. At that time, there was huge opposition to that conflict in the country. In 1999, Alex Salmond got it very badly wrong when he refused to back airstrikes in Kosovo, calling them “unpardonable folly.” At that time, Paddy Ashdown had been one of the most vocal proponents of taking action on humanitarian grounds.
Setting out the key tests in this measured, thoughtful and considered way is absolutely the right thing to do. It is something a responsible party would do.
I am not yet convinced that airstrikes on Syria would do more good than harm, but I’m not as instinctively opposed to them as I was right from the start to the war in Iraq. This feels more to me like the build up to the Gulf War in 1990, which was done more sensibly and with full participation from the region. They also stopped when they had done the agreed job of freeing Kuwait. While Labour fiddle and dither, the Liberal Democrats have spoken with authority.
Does 2249 provide enough legal cover? “All reasonable means” sounds pretty comprehensive to me.
The two most interesting parts are the bit about putting pressure on the Gulf States to cut off the funding to the extremists and as proof of that to publish the report into the Muslim Brotherhood and do further investigations. Paddy was on the Today programme talking about that this morning:
The failure to put pressure on the Gulf states, and especially Saudi Arabia and Qatar, first of all to stop funding the Salafists and Wahhabists, secondly to play a larger part in this campaign and other actions where the Government has refused to have a proper inquiry into the funding of jihadism in Britain, leads me to worry about the closeness between the Conservative party and rich Arab Gulf individuals.
Will the Tories risk upsetting their key allies? Remember Cameron’s tours to the Gulf States promoting British aircraft. Farron’s call yesterday for a ban on arms sales to countries with dodgy human rights records was not just coincidental.
I may not like the eventual destination, but I do commend the route that Tim and the other signatories are following. Before I give my support to military action, I want two things – a Caron test, if you like, to go with the Farron Test. The first is a full, detailed assessment of why this group of people think these conditions have been met. Secondly, I want an assurance that if we do support action that we will speak up if we see it all going pear-shaped.
* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings